Cosplaying for the Camera

So here’s me uploading the posing panel slides for more open mockery!  Probably less interesting/useful online than the photography panel as you don’t get to see me flailing around as examples but we’ll see what we can do.

This is Cosplaying for the Camera, version.. 3? I think.  A rough guide on how you can possibly improve the photos you get back of yourself from a convention.  There are countless people at events wandering around with cameras, but you never know which ones will kindly upload the photos for you to find later, and there’s no telling how good they are with that camera to start with!  So here’s some tips to do some of the work for them, and get better pictures for yourself!

As usual I claim no massive amounts of expertise, I can’t pose myself for crap, but I spend a lot of my time staring down a camera at pretty people in pretty costumes, so I’ve got a few words on the matter anyways. 

We’ll start off with some opening slides, this’ll feel a little random but this is essentially a transcript of me dancing around in front of a screen so please just assume everything made more sense and was far funnier if you were there.


First rule: Have fun!  That’s what this stuff is all about, after all.  Some poses may be painful to hold, some conditions you have to hold still in kinda suck, costumes are uncomfortable or make you too hot or too cold and so on, so forth.. but overall, if you’re not enjoying yourself you’re doing something wrong.  It will show in photos if you look miserable or annoyed, both in your face and body language.

Don’t do any of this. Now generally your photographer will deliver slaps to you if this happens, but if they’re not familiar with you they may end up just staying quiet and hoping you realise. Or they’re like me and will take the picture anyway and put it on the internet and use it in opening slides at convention panels to rooms full of people.

If your character is missing an arm.. don’t use it!  Your photographer may not know the character well or at all so can’t always be relied on to point out things like this!  Don’t let me take a really nice photo then tell me it’s totally unusable :P

Hold weapons the correct way around!  Sharp side points towards bad guy!  If your character is a lifetime expert in the disciplines of stabby things, you need to look like you have at least a slight clue as to what you’re doing!

Remove conbadges! Also your general baggage too, tuck them away, behind you, in pockets, just out of view is fine.  At the least with bead-chain conbadges you can slide them around so they look like little more than a chain necklace, which may be fine for some characters, lanyard types have a quick release so can be taken on and off quickly.  Wristbands, you’ll have more problems with as they’re designed not to come off!  Get creative with hiding that wrist, having long cuffs, etc. Photoshop is a last recourse.

It may seem like a minor thing but clutter in your surroundings can really spoil a photo, or at least detract from it looking amazing.

Photographers come in all shapes and sizes, don’t let the expensiveness of their camera put you off, many a guy wielding a pro-level camera just has more money than sense, or is only after the prettiest of people for their portfolio, whilst an avid fan with a compact camera might drag that bit of extra magic out of you by knowing the signature poses or picking appropriate backgrounds!

Of course the opposite can be true too, the message really is to give the benefit of the doubt rather than half-ass a smile for someone with a cheapo camera and later find that’s the one that gets plastered online!

Don’t let yourself be coerced into anything you’re not comfortable with.  This – so far – hasn’t been a big issue at all at UK conventions so you should be able to rest safe, but if in doubt, speak up.  If you’re not sure about a photographer’s intentions when they’re posing you, ask what they’re trying to achieve. Most are more than happy to explain the shot and if they’re putting in that much specific effort they’re usually on to something.. if they clam up or refuse to show what they’ve got so far, then move on.

Worth mentioning that if you do run into behaviour like this at an event, please tell someone, and not just a week after the con on a forum, find someone with a funky badge (usually a gopher/press/committee person) and tell them, even if they’re not important enough to do something about it, they’ll know someone who is.  Obviously we’ll need to be sure before removing someone from an event but if no one tells, we’ll never know!

The opposite is, of course, also true. Cosplaying a fanservice-y character and want some cheeky photos to take home? You’re probably going to need to speak up, most of us are terrified of being kicked to death for accidentally catching a shot of someone’s skirt in the wind. I’m happy to take them if I’m 100% certain you’re after them and I don’t doubt many would be happy to also if you request such, but you’ll usually find they won’t happen by themselves!

Don’t block corridors or routes of access. This is both your responsibility and your photographers!  As the one taking the pictures there are countless times I’ve stopped someone for a photo and they look far too busy for me to then drag them off to one side so I’ll have to get the photos quickly so traffic can move on, but if you have the time to spare, offer to get out of harms way, the people behind you will thank you!  Well okay most won’t but they’ll at least not swear at you under their breath like they would otherwise..

Groundwork covered! 
So here’s some photos I’m guilty of. Old ones thankfully.  Common theme here is there’s no engagement, everyone’s standing there looking kind of bored, or I’ve aimed badly and what was probably a great pose to the two in the lower right, looks bizarre on film..  So, the main goal here is to avoid all of this! forever!

Have a little confidence.  Or at least distract yourself!  Poor lass here was overjoyed we’d asked to take her picture, but the nerves are on clear display!  Endearing? Sure, flattering, less so. XD   With a little direction, a deep breath and a drop of the shoulders, the improvement is clear.  It’s fine to be nervous, most of us are in front of a camera, but take a deep breath, hold it, let it out and drop those shoulders!  Relax and enjoy the photoshoot, it will show!

Put a little character in there!  If you’re cosplaying a badass, you’re going to have to put some oomph in that pose, you don’t have to exactly mimic your character to the point you forget who you really are and start charging off into the forest to go defend your ninja village or whatever, but if you’re pulling a pose your character would not be caught dead in.. Time to change!

Talk to each other! and listen!  This goes both ways.  Your photographer will be seeing the world through a tiny 2D rectangle, and have to play with settings and dials while also aiming so they hide that rubbish bin in the background out of view and wait for that guy crossing the street to be out of the way, and maybe aiming so your head is hiding the lamppost behind you, etc etc.. If they’re asking to tweak your pose, chances are the changes are going to be small, or they’d put the camera down, move you, and start over.

So if asked to, say, move your hand to the right, don’t sling it out like you’ve just discovered a spider on it!  Also, we do mean your right, you’ve got enough to do with holding your pose, we’re not going to try and confuse you with stage directions. If we say left, we mean your left!

So move slowly and smoothly, so we can indicate when to stop. All too often I’ll suggest moving a hand to the left and have them move the wrong arm all the way out like it was yanked by a rope, when I’ll say no the other arm, that one can go back where it was.. they don’t remember where it was!   It’s easy to panic and move on reflex to instructions word for word, but don’t fret about it – they’re only temporary directions to aim you in a way that fits the photo they’re trying to get.  You don’t have to remember them all like a Simon Says game!

Once more communication is two-way, while you can’t see what the camera sees, we also can’t feel what you’re feeling. If you’re uncomfortable or a pose is taking its toll on your legs – you need to speak up!  Also don’t be afraid to break pose to take a break if you need it, if you can remember where you were then all the better.  This counts double if your photographer has posed you and has moved on to the next person in a group, you don’t have to stay stuck posing if the camera isn’t even ready yet!

Be adventurous!  These are shots from AmeCon at Keele University, it had rained the first day of the con and all weekend cosplayers would refuse to go near the grass as it was still damp, while it’s perfectly understandable not wanting to get your hard-made costume dirty, you could be losing out on some amazing photos!  Here JessChii and I found a moss-covered canyon: “HELL YES” she says and she’s off up the wall, I didn’t even have to ask!   It also helps if you can attempt poses by yourself, not to say DO ALL THE WORK FOR ME, but it’s far easier to adjust a pose than to mould you into one from a standstill, and can be a lot quicker than discussing them!

This is why Jess gets more awesome photos than you :P

Here’s a quick example of how some direction might go.  Here we have LuluRose as the airheaded teacher from Highschool of the Dead, and a zombie trying a bit of stealth. Maybe.  So something’s not right, she kind of looks aware that he’s there, something the character wouldn’t be!  So.. try looking the other way?

Okay now you just look bored!  Okay we’re not sure why you would be waiting on these steps.. Try looking like you’re daydreaming?

Okay that’s a lot better but not quite the right character, perfectly fine for most characters but this one is, well, struggling to rub two braincells together, while Lu here kind of has the sultry secretary look going on.. Hm.. Can you try looking.. less intelligent?


In the end, asked her to lean forward a bit and stare into space, gradually asking her to look higher until the right amount of spacey-ness was achieved!  Shame by now our zombie is kind of bored XD

Candid shots!  They’re not as bad as they sound.  Now this is going to very much depend on the person taking them, but sometimes try not to freak out if you catch someone taking a picture when you’re not expecting it.  Okay if they then get up and run for it, then worry!  Otherwise you’ll often find they’ve just spotted something about you they wanted to capture – often your natural actions look far nicer than forced and posed ones – you can put too much thought into them!  Here’s a selection of shots none of them were expecting me to take, but they’ve all come out better than I could have posed!  The top-centre one was actually how they were sitting when I found them, upon asking I could take the photo could they please not move, their first reaction is still to put drinks away and get into planned poses, NO I SAY, stay RIGHT THERE!

The bottom left photo was obviously posed to start with but it was plain, static, family-portrait style rigidness, someone says something silly and people all turn and laugh in surprise – SNAP, thankyouverymuch!

I’m not going to ask you all to just put up with people taking photos without you realising, that can get very creepy, but some good shots can come of it, so have an open mind.

On the left we have a posed shot from Keekal, but the shot I took 30 seconds earlier when she wasn’t expecting it came out a lot nicer!  That’s a proper natural smile right there.

On this line of thought, if you’re stuck for poses, then scrap them, and just do something, preferably something your character would believably do but you can improvise.  The idea being that there are plenty of motions, body language, expressions, all sorts of things we do unconsciously, if you were to try and pose them it can look awkward or unnatural, what better way to capture a natural action than to be doing it!   Fixing your hair, applying makeup, reading a book, having an impromptu dance, or even eating/drinking, all can come out well if lucky!  They can also come out terrible of course, but that’s what the delete button is for!

Raining outside? Can’t get to pretty photo locations? Why not a shoot of you hiding from the rain?  Worked here

Sometimes if you’re really not sure what to do, just pretend you know what you’re doing!  Staring off into the distance works for many a serious character.  It’s that anime-opening look, the “I’ve got a mission, and it’s in that direction” look.  Although realistically it’s the “so why am I standing here instead of going and doing that mission? I’ll do it tomorrow” look, but we don’t need to know that.

Okay time for something a little more specific! (and the same as my photography panel!)  There are THREE directions you can look in regards to photos. Towards the camera, near the camera, and anybloodywhere else.

Direct at the camera is personal, intimate, you’re staring straight at the viewer and you’re WATCHING THEM.  Maybe.

Anybloodywhere else, it’s impersonal, we’re a fly on the wall, watching a moment of your character’s life, just like the invisible TV crew, we’re the fourth wall, and you’re doing your own thing.

Looking near the camera, usually at someone else’s camera, and it’s that magical area of YOU ARE NOT IMPORTANT.  It looks awkward, like the viewer is in the way as you’re trying to talk to someone next to us, it never looks good.

Largely this is your photographer’s responsibility to snap the photo when you look their way, but it’s not easy – if you’re surrounded by a semicircle of cameras, you don’t want to be playing “guess which lens to look at now”, best practice is to pick someone you like or know better and stare at their lens, if someone asks you to look at them, go ahead, and then hopefully the others will get the idea and wait their turn.  Alternatively, have a pose where you’re looking SOMEWHERE ELSE ENTIRELY, so everyone can get in an unawkward shot!

Good example here with Pokethepixie again, the outer two make for good shots, the one in the middle feels like I should have waited my turn :P

Here’s a similar example, much clearer, even with her fully in view, it’s clear it’s not me she was posing for and the photo looks awkward for it.

Here on the other hand is the difference of a mere glance of the eyes, from direct at the viewer, to LOOKING BORED TO DEATH, or trying to read my tshirt, who knows?

Blinking!  It happens. Stop worrying about it.  Digital cameras can keep taking shots until we catch one without you blinking!

Playing with your hair. STOP IT! Or at least keep it to a minimum, and try and at least keep it photogenic, two hands is RIGHT OUT

See? It can even look pretty if you do it right!

While it counts under everybloodywhere else, looking away from the camera is another style entirely, covering your face gives you that little bit of anonymity that can break the thought that this is you in costume and make it really feel like it’s someone else, it can take a bit of creativity to not look rubbish but the results can be great!

However, often we do want your face in there.  Want details on the back of your costume captured? Here’s the pose for you!  It NEVER gets old.  So many times I’ve asked people to turn away from me but then look back over their shoulder, and they’ve turned around.. paused.. then turned right back again. AGH!  TURN AWAY THEN *LOOK* BACK  T_T

A few other ways to do the same sort of pose, even on stage looking back behind you can net good results, while a rather extreme twist of the waist like our Utena there can get an incredibly flattering look, while also capturing a lot of the back, side and front of the costume!

Don’t feel you have to hold props up to the camera all the time, like a kind of LOOK I REMEMBERED THEM gesture, sometimes it’s best to make the viewer do the work to find details about your costume, rather than awkwardly holding both stapler and knife to the lens, now she’s got one casually held by her side, and the photo looks better for it.

Similarly holding horrible weapons of violent intent to the side like a casual afterthought can make it all the more creepy!

Along the same lines, your hands control a lot of the direction viewers’ eyes will take when looking at your picture.  Wherever your hands are held are like arrows pointing a direction, if you want to draw attention to a particular area of your costume, get those hands somewhere near it!  if you want them to stop paying attention to an area you believe they will, or to take in your whole costume, spread your arms away from it!

Also, have your hands doing something, even if they’re at rest you’ll want them either resting somewhere intentional or hidden from view, it’s hard to describe what I mean by intentional but.. basically hanging like a wet sock on a clothes line doesn’t look great, casually resting on a knee or in a pocket or something looks far better.  It sort of goes back to the confidence thing, everything you do looks like it has a purpose, you meant to do that, you’re not fumbling to pick up a bottle or gripping it with two hands for fear of it slipping, you’re casually grabbing it without even really looking or thinking about it, you just KNEW..

Okay yeah this doesn’t even read like it makes sense to me, but I hope you get something of an idea from it!

Lovely costume but while there’s loads of detail in the hair and face, the top is quite plain, compared to the busy detail below the waist, in the second picture – which I apologise for not taking as well, raising her hand and the fan means the detail is spread more evenly around the photo, and attention is brought back to her eyes.


The pose on the left will draw attention to the picture as whole, while the second draws attention up to the face and sword a lot more!

Don’t let your props control you!  A flashy sword or massive gun will have everyone asking for photos of you holding it or posing with it or.. sometimes could you.. you know.. not be in the photo at all? Just the sword…


Put it behind you, it can still be in there, proof you made it, and sometimes it’s an integral part of your character, but put it in the background and it’ll still be there, but the attention is now far more on you!

On the left we have theKillingDoll’s Kilik, hundreds of hours of work went into hand making that costume from scratch, but everyone wants pictures with the cardboard tube!

With Chell on the right, she wanted to make sure her companion cube wasn’t ignored so he’d always end up in front in photos, I convinced them to get this shot for me and even though he’s in the background, he’s a big bold block of heart – you can’t miss him and if anything it’s like an easter egg to find in the photo!  While now we’ve got far more detail on Chell herself and of course, the cake.

Don’t pose front-on. It looks like a criminal mug shot.  You want the magical 3/4ths angle! Super flattering.

Similarly if you want a shot of the back, try not to pose like you’re a model for an ebay seller, get that over-the-shoulder look we’ve already talked about going on!

Okay SHAPES!  Basically don’t stand there like a lemon, and try not to let the overall shape of your pose be one long rectangle, unless you’re cosplaying Spongebob. That’s perfectly valid.

Make with the interesting!  The easiest way to explain this is SHIFT YOUR WEIGHT, and no I’m not trying to call you fat, I mean it. Get that centre of gravity away from its normal place!  This means bending those knees, sticking your hips out, remembering gymnastics or martial arts classes, or just holding things in dynamic and interesting ways.

This is especially true if you’re in any way a sort of action or combat character, any sort of self defense or martial art will teach you from the start to lower your centre of gravity and make yourself harder to push over, while you’re also in the state to push off and get some real force going. Some of these poses are of course a bit too far to be practical in fighting but they sure look a lot more interesting than standing in an invisible tetris block!

Kink those hips! AngelAiko shows us how it’s done.  Okay more one for the ladies, but it breaks you out of the static rectangle shape, and puts a bit of sauce in there to boot.

Similar again with SailorTellychan, at least with her arms out it’s not too bad but it’s straight-on and well, as we can see, so much better can be had!  Give the camera a little sugar and reap the results for yourself.

A less obvious example, it’s hard to describe exactly what Archer here has done to switch this pose up, but it works! Her weight is shifted onto the back leg, the bow is drawn more tightly but still at ease, and we’ve got a much more flattering angle on her face. All in all, MULTIPOINTS!

Interact with things!  Why stand sort-of-near-them when you can get up close and personal?  Ignore the fact she’s having to hide an ugly plug socket with her cape XD

BORING – NOT BORING, see how this works?

There’s no one right way to do these things, here two totally different shapes, legs crossed or apart, blades held out or pointing in, both perfectly good to me!

Face up, face down, they’ve both got different feels to them from such a minor movement, typically holding your face high and looking down has a look of honesty and straightforwardness, or haughtyness and arrogance, while facing down and looking up has a more sultry, seductive or just sinister look to it.  Mixed messages?  It depends on your expression.

No. Just no.   Okay now YES!

Okay I said you should be getting closer to things, but as with everything, there are always exceptions!

Confidence!  Again.  This can only really come about from giving it your all, putting yourself in the boots of your chosen character – or a personality like theirs you feel you can mimic.  Even if you’re feeling like you should never have attempted your costume, you know what? I’m asking for your photo, you’re good enough for me, GET POSING!  Even if only for 30 seconds at a time, see if you can put on the personality of someone who does believe in themselves, who is confident in their looks. It’ll show, in your face, your body language, and the photos will come out better for it – who knows maybe seeing that improvement in your pose might prove you really should have some of that confidence for real!

Check out poses you like and see if you can mimic them, here I haven’t done a single thing to pose these lovely ladies but they’ve come out amazingly just from their own posing.

Similarly here, some people have either had a lot of time in front of a camera or just have a natural knack, but there’s no reason you can’t do just the same given time or a little bit of practice!

Put one foot forward!  Get some DEPTH all up in that photo.  Photos may be 2D but your pose doesn’t have to be!  Just like standing like a lemon is boring, people standing next to each other like a classroom photo is boring too, get some of that Z-axis involved!

Get away from that wall!




Time for some Manly Posing!

See, men don’t have independent finger control. It’s all about FISTS OF FURY, HANDS OF POWER, GRIP OF MONKEY, CHOP OF KARATE.. etc. Most guys will of course not have to worry about how to hold their hands but if you’re crossplaying or just amazingly effeminate, here’s your first step. MAN HANDS. Fingers shouldn’t be straight out from the palm unless pointing or doing a karate chop or something.

Conversely, lady-like characters are all about the spaced fingers, at staggered or pointed angles, particularly flexed until pointing slightly behind the palm, very feminine.  For ultra femininity, pretend you have a constantly wet coat of nail polish on your fingers, everything you interact with, touch or pick up has to be with the balls of your fingers, keeping nails pointed out as far as you can manage.

Legs crossing! Very feminine, even just a little with one knee in front of the other leg, works every time, it usually makes legs look longer, gives a more flattering shape to your image, and, well, there’s not really a downside beyond slightly less balance!

And Granny Gertrude shows us how it’s done

An actual guy and actual girl :O  Mark and Nina make perfect examples of the two opposites, fingers together vs separated, legs straight vs crossed, and a good example of sitting, too!  A little on the obvious side but those of the feminine persuasion keep their legs together, men are all about the legs apart-ness.

Also, almost forgot and you can see it more in the first picture than the second:  For manly men, hunch your shoulders forward slightly, gives a little extra breadth to your build and pronounces your arms more.  While for the womanly women it’s all about pulling them back, makes your collarbone and neck stand out more with a slightly more slender look, and pushes your chest out more.

Fatkraken as Khimari shows us how it can all go horribly wrong!  MANLY BEAST, not so manly. All with one wrong step!

Not so much needed for photos, but as a rule of thumb if trying to walk in a feminine manner, imagine walking on a really thin beam like a tightrope, your feet don’t need to land exactly in front of the other but the closer the better, also get some hip action in your step!

For the guys, imagine that same beam, but you’re now never stepping on it, only either side of it, and of course, less hip action, but a bit more shoulder action instead can work well.

Yuka, what the hell are you doing?  I don’t even know where to start!  On the right, so much better.

Lex-time as pretty-boy Michael, hand in pocket, fingers together, slouching slightly and legs apart, MANLY

Luke on the other hand being the prettiest of ladies, fingers outstretched, very ladylike!

Delusional pulling off the androgynous J-rock look!   The hips might slightly give it away in the first one but both work pretty well.

Interact with other cosplayers! Please!  Standing next to each other like an awkward family reunion doesn’t go down so well, try and find something to do between your two characters.  Even something as simple as a conversation or just chilling out works wonders, better yet get some combat going, or have someone sneaking up on another, or greeting them in the street, anything but a static side-by-side pose!

Get some physical contact going on!  This, of course, depends on your own boundaries and how well you know the people you’re cosplaying with!  Communication is vital, checking someone is okay with you sticking your arm around them is generally polite before actually doing it, but the more interaction you can get going, the more natural the picture will look.  Compare the very tenuous-looking contact between Pez and Storme down in the lower left with their next attempt, worlds of difference!

Similarly with Miiol and Chibi in the bottom right, before Miiol is having to hang onto the sofa so as not to put much pressure on top of Chibi, until she points out Miiol doesn’t exactly weigh much and she’s fine with it, suddenly way more natural look!

Again, awkwardness will show, it’s best to find something you’re all comfortable with doing, one shoot I was actually in for once, I had to be on the floor being kicked or trodden into the ground, while the treadee was trying to balance herself so she wasn’t actually touching but was trying to look the part while holding herself in this awkward balance.  Sure I don’t want my head to actually be caved in, but you can rest SOME of that weight on the other person without it doing damage or even hurting much, depending on where you put it. It’s better than looking like you’re about to fall over!

Little story behind this one, I spotted the two girls on the right and was about to ask for a photo when another photographer grabbed the Azusa and paired her with a different nearby Yui, on the left there. Whether they deliberately wanted to say they preferred this Yui or hadn’t even realised there was another present, they snapped and ran off – poor right-Yui wasn’t exactly happy about this implied commentary on her own costume so I made sure to get a picture of them both.  You know what? I prefer the second, the first looks kind of awkward, two strangers slammed next to each other, while second time round, the two friends have got way more chemistry going on.

Standard shot. Nice. Boring.


Don’t be afraid to be in the background!  Again a comparison of our Portal cosplayers on the left, or Black Star next to that being shadowed by his own weapon, being put in the rear of a shot does not mean you’re out of it, or that you’re any less important for it.  The viewer’s attention may not immediately be drawn to you, but it will get there, and it almost goes back to the easter egg thing.  If a photo only has one thing in it, you’ll look at the one thing and move on, if  however you find there’s more going on, you’ll stick around longer.  It can turn a snapshot into a proper photo, the background isn’t just there, the background is now just as important as the foreground!

Especially if you have larger costumes which are impressive at any distance (or even look better if not viewed too closely) vs costumes with smaller detail on, get the small detailed one up front, get the larger detailed one behind!   The companion cube is dominating the first image and we’d barely notice the cake, instead the cake is up front but we can’t not spot the cube!

The twin Laras left-middle, even though Genevieve is but a blurry silhouette, the photo now has menance, rather than a pretty snapshot of Lara Croft by some stairs, there’s a story, a chase, an opponent!

Down in the bottom right, Tab as Big Sister is the costume everyone’s looking for, were he up front would the Little Sister and Splicer get any attention?  Put big impressive things at the back, make your viewer work for it!

More background shenanigans!

Okay! Splitting this up because OH GOD I WRITE TOO MUCH, so on to Part 2!

Singular Lemony Comment on Cosplaying for the Camera

  1. - Thy name -
    October, 24th 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Thank you :)

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